Just in case you haven’t had quite enough sport this summer, there is a new documentary from debuting directorial team Dan Lindsay and T.J Martin concerning American Football; a sport that is, to put it mildly, not traditionally the UK’s favourite. But this underdog story arrives fresh from winning this year’s Academy Award for best documentary and deserves your attention.
The subject is Manassas High School’s much maligned football team, The Tigers, as they try to turn their terrible sporting record around. We arrive when the team is well into recovery mode, with key coach Bill Courtney having arrived in 2004, at the start of the crucial 2009 season and now it’s time for key players O.C, Montrail and Chavis to overcome their demons. Lindsay and Martin followed the team throughout the season and their film is an attempt to document an amazing story.
Remarkably they succeed because, although Undefeated retreads a lot of the clichés that come with sports movies, it manages to retain a good pace while building up to that one final moment. It’s chock full of metaphors but Lindsay and Martin show everything with such honesty that it’s hard to think of a documentary that better represents what sport means to the participants. At the centre of all that’s good is Courtney. He’s an engaging and inspiring figure; providing surprising moments of humour to what are otherwise very serious proceedings. Though even he is given extra depth beyond the usual inspirational coach caricature as it gradually becomes clear he’s devoted too much of his life to teaching these young athletes.
Undefeated does struggle, like all underdog sports documentaries do, from the problems that come with trying to tell a story about a team through individuals and trips up in the last ten minutes by diving into unnecessary weepiness. But the journey to these moments is so powerful that it doesn’t matter. “Football reveals character” says Courtney early on, setting the tone for what’s to come. Well, Undefeated does the same and in doing so it soars above the average sports movie.
Joshua has awarded Undefeated four Torches of Truth.
4 out of 5 torches